My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that is a heartwarming, simple film. It did bother me how predictable the film was, and the rest of the film was kind of disappointing compared to the first act. The musical format really strengthened the film, and the overall message and themes of the movie were ones that touched my heart. There is a good chance that all three of the Disney films (including Pixar) will be in the top 3 of my 2016 rankings later on in the month, and they would deserve it.
In early 2010, after The Princess and the Frog was released, John Musker and Ron Clements were working on three ideas, which were pitched in 2011 to Lasseter, who approved it. He told them to go on a few research trips, which the duo did in 2012 to vacate to Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti.
The initial screenplay of the film involved Moana being the youngest of 5-6 brothers, and her gender was shoved in her face. It was written out, and changed to her father supporting her navigation journey, but they did not want him overshadowing her, so they changed it to opposition. Versions of the story involved her father being saved from being drowned, but that was rewritten and put in as a minor part of the story. With the story issues, the directors from Big Hero 6 were brought on the film to fix the issues regarding the story.
Casting calls were made throughout the Pacific islands, and this was how the lead of Moana was cast. The crew made sure to cast countless actors and actresses who had Polynesian descent within them.
The film starts with a narration of the story with the mother earth named Te Fiti, whose heart (which is a stone) has the ability to create and form all types of life. Many tried to steal it, but the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is the one who ended up stealing it. The world slowly started to crumble and turn grey, but Maui was soon defeated by another monster, which caused him to disappear, with the stone and his hook still lost in sea. We go to a Polynesian land a millenium later, where an elderly woman named Tala (Rachel House) is narrating it to her granddaughter Moana (Louise Bush and Auli’i Cravalho) and a class full of children. She tells them that someone will find Maui to return the stone and save Earth, with her son Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) telling everyone that it is just a myth, and that no one is leaving the island.
Moana is now a teenager (we haven’t seen one of them in a while), and we see her interact with various people in the tribe. This is what was missing in Pocahontas; you need some of these interactions to feel a connection to the characters, so when a conflict arises, you have a vested interest in it. I know I’m making a lot of connections to that film, but it is hard not to. A problem arises when the coconuts run dry, and have no water in them, and less fish are in the oceans. Moana tries to tell her father that they need to go into the ocean to find fish, and her mother Sina tells her that her father was like her when he was younger, and went out into the ocean, but the friend with him ended up drowning, which scared her father.
She goes into the water with her pig Pua, but they both almost drown in the rough oceans. Grandma Tala arrives, and Moana tells her that she is done with the ocean, only finding it weird that her grandmother is not really say anything. Tala tells her that when she dies, she will end up being reincarnated into a manta ray. Tired of the half-answers, Moana gets her grandmother to tell her the truth, and she learns that their people were once voyagers. Now knowing the truth, Moana is more determined to go into the ocean to solve their issues, and realizes that the ocean chose her to be their savior.
After a day in the sea, the boat crashes, and luckily for her, it is on the island that Maui is on. We see that he is an egotistical, funny, witty, and sarcastic male character that we have seen time and time again. Moana tries to get him on the boat, and he sings a song called “Your Welcome”, which is about him trying to charm her enough, so he can steal her boat. I will say that the first act is increasingly strong, and rose my expectations, but my interest starts to wane increasingly from this point onwards. Moana is trapped in a cave, which she has to escape to return to him on the boat. He tries to throw her off countless times, but the ocean brings her back on the boat, so he is stuck with her, especially when she uses the heart to scare him, since he claims it is cursed.
A bunch of these tiny-but-lethal coconuts attack them, since they want the crystal as well, but they barely escape them. Moana tries to guilt trip him, claiming that he is no one’s hero, since no one has heard of him in 1000 years, but if he puts back the heart, he will be everyone’s hero. He will only help her if he finds his hook again, and we get a montage scene of him teaching her how to read stars, and how to sail a boat. As they climb the long Lalotai, where he questions her being the chosen one, and she claims that she was chosen for a reason, which he kind of doubts.
It was around this point in the film that I realized what was missing; a break from the tension. Usually, we get to see the tribe/family’s reaction to the protagonist leaving, but we NEVER see that in the film. We see Sina help her leave, but we have no idea how her father reacted. Going back to the main setting helps us remember about the other characters, and gives the audience and the film a slight break. That never happens here, and all of the scenes in the ocean get pretty draining.
Maui is a bit rusty with his magic regarding the hook, so Moana helps him train with it, and the two become close. He tells her that he took the heart because he wanted to be praised by the humans, but nothing was never enough. He was also a mortal, but his parents gave him up, and the gods turned him into a demigod, and with these powers, he just wanted to please everyone. It is a touching moment, but we soon realize that there’s going to be a shift in tension soon. They make it to the lava creature, but he gets mad at her when she does not turn around; almost causing his hook to be destroyed. He tells her that she is not special, and should stop acting like she is, before he flies off. Whatever; we all know what will happen.
It is the next morning, and she goes back over to return the heart, where Maui predictably shows back up, and all is forgiven. I honestly should have seen this coming, but the lava creature is Te Fiti, and when the heart is returned, she returns to her normal, motherly state. This film needs to be given credit for NOT having a surprise villain for the 5th consecutive film in a row. Moana is given a ship, earth is repaired, and Maui is given a repaired hook. She offers Maui to return to her people with her, but he tells her that they already have a hero, and that they need to part ways. The film ends with everyone in the village partaking in the revamped tradition of voyaging, and this is after she becomes the official chief.
I have to say that despite the story, and the likable enough characters, I did not think much of the characters at all throughout the film. They are not bad, but they aren’t the greatest either, and I really don’t know why that is the case. I will say that the voice acting is exquisite, and seems very authentic, so the emotions are what makes the characters a lot better than what they would have been.
The animation is absolutely lovely. I went into it expecting more of the same, but I have never seen the ocean so vibrant, whether it is underwater, or the spirit of the ocean. You get to see all of the different types of nature, and what techniques they use to make each landscape different and stand out. A lot of effects were used, and I am obsessed with the animation. Easily some of the best that I have ever seen.
I really, really like the music. There is this one song that sticks out like a sore thumb, but to hear South Pacific scores, instruments, and tunes really got me invested in the world. Whenever there is a cultural implication in the music (both songs and score), it is one of the easiest ways to capture my attention. It is refreshing to see a well-paced musical, which we have not had in over 5 years.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on November 23rd, 2016, it has made (as of December 11th) 130.3 million domestically, and $59.8 million in other areas, with a total amount of $190.1 million. I predict that this film will name roughly $600-$700 million, but it won’t be a big smash like Zootopia and Finding Dory obviously were.
It has received universal acclaim since its release, with many critics and audiences liking the strong characters, lush animation and songs, with a touching and heartfelt story to tell. People also liked all of the Polynesian influence that was very emphasized throughout the entire film, and considered the film to be another successful addition to the Revival era. I have not really heard negative comments about the film; actually, that is not the case. There is some criticism with Maui being overweight (it is clear he is larger so his tattoos can move in more areas), and there being a lack of a female demigoddess alongside Maui; Hina is a companion goddess to him, but she was left out completely.
= 32/40 = 80%